Sun, 13 Jul 2003

Manhunt continues for other JI members

Andi Hajramurni, The Jakarta Post, Makassar, South Sulawesi

A senior police officer said on Saturday that police were still hunting for suspected members of the regional terrorist group Jamaah Islamiyah (JI).

Chief Detective Police Comr. Gen. Erwin Mappaseng said the manhunt was still going on for four JI members who formed part of a group recently nabbed in Jakarta and Semarang, Central Java.

"For now, the hunt is still underway for four more members of the group. But apart from the four, we can't tell how many more there may be, as we have yet to find out the total number of JI people," he told reporters in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

Mappaseng also declined to give more information on a report earlier that the group had begun an operation targeting five national political leaders.

"It is not appropriate for me to disclose the information now, but I can assure you that President Megawati Soekarnoputri is not one of their targets," he said, adding the group would also target public places.

The alleged leader of JI, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir is currently standing trial in Jakarta on several charges including an alleged plot to assassinate Megawati when she was vice president.

The plot to target national leaders was apparently gleaned from JI members arrested earlier in the week. Police also seized explosives and firearms that were likely going to be used to support the plan, Mappaseng said.

On Friday, police announced they had arrested nine suspected members of JI, the regional terrorist organization blamed for last year's Bali bombings. One of the suspects, identified as Ikhwanuddin, alias Asim, 28, committed suicide during interrogation at a police post in East Jakarta.

On Tuesday afternoon police arrested two other suspects in Bekasi, West Java. One of them, Pranata Yuda, alias Mustofa reportedly admitted that he was a former head of JI's Mantiqi (regional commander) and is currently the head of a working committee at the JI headquarters in Jakarta.

In Semarang, Central Java, police recovered over 1,000 bomb detonators, 900 kilograms of potassium chlorate, 160 kilograms of TNT, 65 PETN detonators (a high-explosive substance), 11 shoulder-launched rockets, more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, two M-16 assault rifles, timers, maps and documents.

Commenting on the arrest, Mappaseng said the Mustofa group was not involved in the deadly Bali blast or last December's bombing in Makassar. It was also not implicated in the explosions in Poso, Central Sulawesi, last Thursday.

However, he asserted that the group had an indirect link with the alleged perpetrators of the Bali blast. "They share a common vision of waging a war to defend Islam," Mappaseng said.

He said that the entire JI network in Indonesia only began to be unraveled after the police embarked on an all-out investigation with international help in the wake of the Bali bombings.

Thus far, the police have caught more than 100 members of JI, 50 of whom were allegedly linked in some way to the Bali bombings that claimed over 200 lives.